The Opposition is trying to pressure the government over the referendum on the partial sale of a few state owned assets.
This exchange in Question Time yesterday shows they’re making no traction at all:
1. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Will the results of the state-owned assets referendum in any way influence his Government’s policy to sell State assets; if so, how?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): No.
. . . Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Maybe the way to—[Interruption] Let me relive your past so that you can enjoy it, because we are certainly going to enjoy it on this side. Let us put it another way. This is not the first time, actually, that New Zealanders have heard about the mixed-ownership programme— no. During the 2011 election campaign, Phil Goff described the election as a referendum on asset sales. Russel Norman described the ownership and use of State assets as having become “the defining issue of the election”. The Mana Party said that a vote for National was a vote for asset sales. Well, guess what? We campaigned on it the whole way through, and we won with the largest result in National’s history under MMP and the largest result of any political party under MMP, and Labour got the worst result—
. . . Hon David Cunliffe: Given that more New Zealanders at the last election voted for parties that were opposed to the Government’s assets sales programme, and given that over 327,000 New Zealanders signed the anti – asset sales petition, does he agree that there is unease amongst New Zealanders over his policy?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The election campaign in 2011 was dominated by this issue of the mixedownership model. National won that election with a comprehensive majority in any terms. This Parliament has faced on numerous occasions referendums for which there has been significant public opposition, and we do not even know, by the way, what the result of this referendum will be. But the most recent one was when 87.4 percent of New Zealanders opposed the smacking legislation. That was a policy pushed by Helen Clark, the Greens, and a Labour Government, and all that we can say is that Labour arrogantly ignored it. So when Labour members are in Government they just ignore things, and when they are in Opposition they roar like little tigers or lions, or whatever else it is over there that they do.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given that the Prime Minister’s wafer-thin majority looks like it is going to be hanging from the coat-tails of “Crazy Colin Craig”, who believes in binding referendums, does he propose to ignore the results of the next referendum, just like he has ignored and arrogantly refused all the others?
Mr SPEAKER: Again, in so far as there is prime ministerial responsibility, the right honourable Prime Minister.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am prepared to accept that I have got a narrow majority in Parliament, relatively speaking—it is 64 votes. But that is way better than David Cunliffe, who does not even have a majority in his own caucus.
Dr Russel Norman: Is the Prime Minister looking forward to receiving his ballot papers in the mail next week so that he can voice his view, albeit the view of a small minority, in favour of asset sales in the referendum?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, the member is prejudging the outcome, but what I will be saying when I receive my ballot papers through the mailbox is: “What a waste of $9 million of taxpayers’ money, which the Green Party could have seen spent on vulnerable kids or for a million other good reasons in the Parliament.” Secondly, I will say to myself: “Man, it was amazing the way that they tried to con the New Zealand public that they had signatures they did not have.”, and I will say to myself: “It is just another stunt from the Greens that will not work.”
Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree that it is important that all New Zealanders, even those like himself who are part of the small minority that supports asset sales, participate in our democracy under this legislation and exercise their right to vote in the referendum?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is up to people whether they wish to participate in an electoral stunt, but I will just say this to the member. This is what I want the member to do. When he is going on the radio and he is on TV, and all the various things he does over the next 3 or 4 weeks, I want him to say this. I want him to say: “I am voting against the asset sales referendum that has been put up.”— fair enough—“I will be voting no.”, or whatever he will be voting, and I want him to say to the New Zealand public: “I deeply apologise for being so arrogant as to ignore you on smacking.”, because
that is what that member did. He was part of the party that drove that. When it was about smacking, he said to the public—
. . . Hon David Cunliffe: What does he think is better value for money: the cost of running the antiasset sales referendum, which is $9 million or thereabouts; the $147 million that he spent on ticket clippers for the fire sale of State assets; or the $1 billion that Treasury says he and Bill English have wasted by the fire-sale rushing this sale of energy companies when the market could not absorb the shares?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, firstly, the member is just plain wrong, actually—
Hon Members: No, he’s not.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: —as he was yesterday in question time, even though he does not actually want anyone to go and have a look at what he said—which is about the third or fourth time that he has been wrong, but do not worry, we will keep an eye on that. The Government has actually maximised the return that it got from these assets. It has actually sold them into a strong market. If the member is so in favour of referendums and thinks they should be binding, then he will adhere to the one that saw 81.5 percent of New Zealanders wanting the number of MPs to reduce to 99 and he will support the 87.4 percent of New Zealanders who did not want the smacking legislation. That member, like the Green member, cannot have it both ways. They cannot say: “I’ll ignore the public on the ones I don’t agree with them on, but I want to follow them on the ones I do.”
When Citizen’s Initiated Referenda were introduced the results were not made binding on the government for very good reasons.
One of those is that referenda are very blunt instruments and it’s incredibly difficult to word them so they are not ambiguous.
The current one is a case in point.
It asks if people support the partial sale of state owned assets. People who don’t want any sales at all will answer no, but people who would rather SOEs were sold in full could also answer no.
None of the CIRs that have been held so far has been acted on by the government of the day.
That isn’t an argument for making them binding.
It’s an argument for getting rid of them.
That this one was a politicians’ initiated referendum rather than one driven by citizens is another argument for that.
CIRs have passed their use-by date and should be replaced with a more effective and less costly vehicle for influencing government policy.
#gigatownoamaru is working hard to influence the competition to be the southern hemisphere’s first gigatown.